Reward tearaways and reap the whirlwind

24th August 2007 at 01:00
The file that contains the record of Jason's crimes and misdemeanours is huge more than 150 separate entries. Every incident, whether trivial or serious, is carefully detailed and supported with documentary evidence. It covers abuse, swearing, truancy, threats and damage. Jason is a boy who can barely read or write, yet he generates an enormous amount of paperwork. There are days when Jason lurches from one disaster to another, which means counter-signatures, photographs, filing, evidence-building and, above all, time.

In the file, you will find reports from the support workers. They say that Jason is very polite and co-operative, a charming young man. But these reports come back after he has sworn at a teacher and threatened to pour paint stripper on their car.

The support workers elevate any minor improvement into some life-enhancing revelation. "He was good in science and a treat is in order. Where shall we take him?" Emma is good in science all the time, but that doesn't seem to count for much. "Jason wants to be a car mechanic," they say. "Let's find him a placement immediately." Scott wants to be a car mechanic too, but no one takes much notice of that. Scott doesn't generate the paper, you see.

Jason knows perfectly well how to exploit a system that has no real values. He knows how to negotiate. His support workers firmly believe that they can turn him into a model citizen. What Jason knows is that if he keeps his mouth shut for a while, he'll win a prize.

When you dig deeper into the file, you realise Jason has had an awful life and someone needs to start to care. To read about Jason is to read about terminal social and psychological collapse. His father physically abused him and is now in prison. He has an inadequate mother and lives in the heart of the local drug culture. He has grown up in poor housing and on low-grade nutrition. But when you deal with his dark and snarling presence, your sympathy evaporates.

Social workers may be championing him, but they don't do him any good. They side with him in his opposition to teachers and the school. But they haven't got to deliver the same things as teachers education, something Jason is alien to.

Yes, he needs treats and pleasure. But he's in a class with other poor sods who haven't got a chance and haven't got a support worker either.

He throws stones at cars and steals sweets from other children. He swears at old ladies and chases asylum-seekers. He slouches around with a baseball cap poking out from underneath his hood. You know Jason he's just 13 years old and there's someone just like him in your school.

John Sutton is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales

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